With the booming expansion of sports wagering in the United States, differentiating a sportsbook product is arguably the biggest current challenge an operator faces when entering markets on a state-by-state basis.
Wagr is one of nine sportsbooks currently operating in the Volunteer State, but the only one that is peer-focused. Wagr does not serve as a standard book so much as a connector for two friends who want to make a bet on an event — a social sportsbook, if you will. It takes 5% of the wager placed as its transaction fee, versus the usual 10% vig that other sportsbooks charge for using their betting lines.
Wagr is set to receive a huge signal boost this weekend as the official betting partner of Nashville SC, which will open its new soccer-specific stadium GEODIS Park on Sunday. The city has quickly taken to the third-year MLS club, having previously turned Nissan Stadium into a raucous atmosphere that contributed to Nashville SC going unbeaten at home in the regular season in 2021, with eight wins and nine draws.
The club opened this season with eight road matches, claiming 11 points from those contests, while the finishing touches on the 30,000-seat stadium — the largest soccer-specific venue in the United States and Canada — were made. Nashville SC also recently added actress Reese Witherspoon and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry to its ownership group ahead of the home opener versus the Philadelphia Union. Wagr will be front and center as part of the opening festivities, offering two activation areas for people interested in making wagers.
“The big, big benefit for us is we want access to the tightly-knit community of fans,” Malavé told The Tennesseean. “When you go talk to all the fan clubs like La Brigada and all the other ones in the entire Backline Collective, there are friendships in there. There are connections. There are people who are engaging. They go to games together, they tailgate together, they travel together. Our product is built for groups like that.”
Fostering a sense of community via soccer
Wagr lets fans bet with friends instead of against the house, giving fans a new and exciting way to engage with the sports they love ⚽️https://t.co/Ia8ei8Slee
— 7️⃣7️⃣6️⃣ (@sevensevensix) April 14, 2022
In talking with Malavé, whose resumé includes a stint in the analytics department with Los Angeles FC, another recent successful MLS expansion team, it is clear the community aspect of Wagr is its primary driver. A passionate futbol fan and native of Venezuela, Malavé admitted he has never been a fan of the traditional sports betting landscape and wants to make Wagr a differentiator in the marketplace for long-term sustainability.
The constant presence of a community thread is not surprising given both Malavé’s and fellow co-founder and Chief Product Officer Eliana Eskanazi’s respective backgrounds in startups, as the pair formed Wagr while at Harvard Business School in 2019. It is a very close-knit company — Wagr started with nine employees and now has 18. The intensity of the regulatory process surprised Malavé to some extent — though Wagr was approved by the Tennessee Education and Lottery Corporation for a license last September, it did not begin accepting wagers until January.
The time spent leading up to Sunday’s match has included a lot of listening for Malavé. Wagr has sponsored watch parties during Nashville SC’s season-opening road trip, with Malavé interacting with the club’s supporter groups to explain the product and receive feedback for it. He envisions home matches where traveling supporter groups from other cities interact with their Nashville counterparts through Wagr for friendly betting while enjoying matches.
Of longer-term interest is the 2026 World Cup that the U.S. will co-host with Canada and Mexico. But with Nashville recently entering the rotation as a home site for U.S. men’s national matches, there is also the potential for growth this winter when the U.S. takes the pitch in Qatar for the 2022 edition.
Another community avenue includes Wagr’s primary investors — Seven Seven Six, Greycroft, and Pear, which provided $4 million in seed funding in June 2021. Of the three, Seven Seven Six is arguably the most well-known, as founder and general partner Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of Reddit — one of the largest online communities in the world — and the husband of Serena Williams, the greatest women’s tennis player of all time.
Responsible gaming means a better community
Wagr, has partnered with NSC to be the official sports betting partner!
To celebrate this, they want to give away a NSC t-shirt! Anyone who downloads the Wagr app and puts in promo code "labrigada" will get $50 in free bets in their account. Promo code: labrigada @TheBacklineSC pic.twitter.com/mFjvKwjeas
— La Brigada De Oro SG (@LaBrigadaDeOro) April 15, 2022
Malavé expressed pride in Wagr’s approach to responsible gaming since it is not building customer loyalty through promotional play — something that includes bettors potentially chasing losses from previous wagers. By industry standards, Wagr has some of the lowest wagering limits available — the maximum bet is $500 — and the company’s user interface allows for individuals to set wagering limits.
“We want you to be a part of those water cooler and dinner party conversations,” Malavé wrote in 2021 as part of the announcement that came with the seed funding. “We want to see you brag when you see yourself at the top of the leaderboard and poke fun at yourself when you are at the bottom. Most importantly, we want you to do all of that without ever jeopardizing your safety.”
While Wagr does have engineers ready to keep evolving the user interface, one that Malavé also sees eventually adding a social component, he wants the primary advances to come from the people using Wagr. He also sees an environment that could be conducive to expansion, hoping to be active in up to five states in a year’s time.